After three nights of deliberations, the municipality’s budget committee approved an increase to our taxes at 1.99 per cent recently.
On Feb. 5, the committee shaved off 0.33 per cent, dropping the proposed increase from the first two nights of meetings from 2.32 per cent down to its final tally.
That translates to another $57 in annual taxes on an average home worth $160,000 in the municipality.
Brock McGregor, chair of the budget committee, is happy with the results.
“We got to a place where council was comfortable. I think some people in the group were aiming for a number below the inflation rate. And there were some individuals who expressed something around two per cent,” he said.
For McGregor, it wasn’t about a certain percentage increase.
“From my point of view, it’s about making decisions based on investment and affordability and not targeting a specific number,” he said. “I think we made some excellent decisions and showed we prioritized some items such as investing in infrastructure and maintaining service levels. It was a message we’d heard from the community through the election campaign and the engagement sessions.”
In terms of infrastructure spending, the committee added $550,000 in spending each year for the next four years for storm sewer lifecycle funding, an area Thomas Kelly, general manager of infrastructure, said previously was in dire need of added support.
The committee also pledged additional funds towards upkeep of gravel roads in Chatham-Kent, diverting $200,000 in new funding towards them, and sending part of the existing infrastructure increases their way as well.
These initiatives were completed in the first two nights of deliberations at the end of January. Last week, the trimming to the budget came in the form of addressing one-time spending requirements, McGregor said.
“We looked at some of the items proposed in
the draft budget that were one-time spending items, and we funded them as one-time
items,” he said, adding that they were funded through reserves. “For example,
there was equipment we needed for fire and emergency services. We still
purchased that equipment, but we funded it through money we had saved in
reserves. That’s what reserves are for – one-time spends.”
The budget committee also added to municipal reserves, packing away $250,000 for arena construction or renovations.
“It’s a strategy to start saving for whatever council decides,” McGregor said. Council is still considering replacing the aging Memorial and Erickson arenas in Chatham with a twin pad facility. “Erickson and Memorial are at end of life. We talked about a new arena in the past. There is going to need to be an investment at some point.”
Rather than wait and borrow the entirety of funds, McGregor said the committee opted to squirrel away some money now.
Those funds can be used towards a new facility, or if council opts against such a move, to invest into improvements at the existing arenas.
“It’s a financially responsible decision,” McGregor said. “When we look at the lifecycle budget for arena infrastructure, we budget enough to do some regular repairs, but there is no ability in the budget to pay for significant renovation or replacement.”
Provincial funding decreases impacted the committee’s work this year, McGregor said, as the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund cut $500,000 from transfers to the municipality.
“We all know municipalities are the creations of the province. A very significant portion of our funding flows from the province. If there’s uncertainty, that makes budget planning very difficult,” he said.